Real estate developer Anthony Greenberg is used to hiring architects, reading blueprints and overseeing construction. As a principal of the Chevy Chase, Md.-based JBG Companies (now merging with Vornado/Charles E. Smith), Greenberg specializes in creating large, mixed-use complexes near transit stations.
Among these projects are the 4.6-acre Fort Totten Square in Northeast Washington and buildings within the 30-acre neighborhood surrounding the Twinbrook Metro station in Rockville.
In addition, Greenberg and his wife, Keiko, a nephrologist (kidney specialist), both 40, have renovated several homes in the District and Baltimore.
So when it came to their latest move from Charm City to the nation’s capital, the Greenbergs were well prepared to build a dwelling from the ground up.
They began looking for a wooded site and were about to make an offer on a tear-down property in Glen Echo Heights.
But their plans changed when Anthony Greenberg went to look at a 1967 modern house for sale in Bethesda.
“When I walked in, I saw the opportunity to do something really great here,” he says. “There was a ton of natural light from clerestory windows, skylights and large plate-glass dormer windows. The design needed a major refresh, but I knew it would lend itself to both minimalist and midcentury modern design.”
Greenberg was so taken with the property that he signed a contract without his wife seeing the house. “I trusted him,” Keiko says. “And if it didn’t work out, I could blame him,” she says with a smile. “I also like modern architecture and its clean lines, and this house has that.”
The Greenbergs purchased the low-slung residence, designed by Washington architect Charles F.D. Egbert for $1.075 million in 2013 from the original owners. They spent about $600,000 to renovate and moved in during fall 2014.
For help with remodeling, they turned to architect Ali Reza Honarkar of D.C.-based Division One. The firm is best known for the Lacey condominium and other contemporary residential designs in the District’s Shaw neighborhood.
Honarkar had previously assisted the Greenbergs with two home renovations and had conceived some designs for JBG, including a proposal for an edgy 7-Eleven.
“The shape of the store was very sculptural. I thought the design would make a better house, and we used some of those ideas here,” Greenberg says, pointing to the home’s new steel entrance canopy.
The developer’s strong interest in architecture runs deep. His great uncle, Edgar Kaufmann, built two masterpieces of modern 20th-century design: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater near Pittsburgh and a desert house in Palm Springs, Calif., created by Austrian-born architect Richard Neutra.
For the Bethesda house renovation, Greenberg encouraged Honarkar to put his stamp on the details. The most noticeable new designs are the industrial-style arches forming the entrance canopy and a large, pivoting front door, all made of steel. The architect similarly used the metal to create a railing for the staircase to the basement and a storage bin for logs next to the fireplace on that lower level.
But Honarkar did not go overboard with the contemporary additions. He maintained the original footprint and spirit of the one-story house, and reconfigured some rooms to better suit the Greenbergs and their 1-year-old daughter, Emiko.
“My approach was to show respect,” the architect says. “The house was worth saving, and we didn’t want to radically change what was there. It just needed a lot of updating.”
On the exterior, the stucco walls were painted white and wood trim changed to black to heighten the visual contrast between elements. Windows, doors and lighting were replaced, and the original oak floors were sanded and stained a darker color.
Honarkar did not blow out the main interior to create an open-plan layout, as expected of many house remodels these days. Instead, he erected a wall to separate the entrance hallway from the library behind it.
On the hallway side, that partition incorporates a niche for a tall, striped print by Washington Color School artist Gene Davis to provide a graphic focal point from the front door. The library is now sequestered from the foyer as an intimate reading nook off the living room. It incorporates a sliding glass door opening to a patio.
The heart of the home is the combined cooking and dining space situated between the living spaces and bedrooms. “We entertain there a fair amount. It’s good for a casual brunch or a playdate for Emi, but also for sit-down dinners,” Keiko says.
The kitchen was completely overhauled with a new 12-foot-long, marble-topped island, German-made cabinets and stainless-steel appliances. The dining space, once a wood-paneled den, now centers on an Italian aluminum table set with Danish chairs.
The nearly 10-foot-long, vintage console next to the table was purchased online through 1stdibs and fits perfectly into a space within the side wall. Mounted in the ceiling is an unusual metal-rod chandelier designed by Los Angeles-based Brendan Ravenhill to accentuate the room’s modern vibe.
Originally, the house had four bedrooms, but one of them was incorporated into the master suite as a walk-in closet. Lined with storage on three sides, the open closet centers on a bench illuminated by a new skylight.
The original small closet in the master bedroom was absorbed into the new master bathroom with its soaking tub, glass-lined shower and all-white finishes, per Keiko Greenberg’s request. “I have always associated white with cleanliness, order and peacefulness,” she says.
Emiko sleeps in one of the original bedrooms, its back wall decorated with colorful dots resembling a spot painting by British artist Damien Hirst. The next-door bedroom is reserved for guests, including Keiko’s parents, who recently stayed with the Greenbergs for about three months.
Anthony Greenberg served as the general contractor for the remodel and selected some finishes that had been already tested in his development projects. The stacked subway tile pattern in the hallway bathroom and large porcelain tiles in the master bathroom were used in the Fort Totten Square apartments. In the basement sitting room, also used as a wine cellar, the illuminated “G” on the wall came from a tower crane sign at the Galvan development near the Twinbrook Metro station.
One of the assets of the house is an office with a kitchenette that is attached to the garage at the front. The space was used by the former owner, a psychiatrist, to consult with patients and is separated from the rest of the house by a courtyard off the kitchen.
The homeowners use the space with its kitchenette as a guest room, an exercise room and a yoga studio. “If we build a lap pool in the side yard, it could become a pool house,” says Anthony Greenberg.
That vision is just one of the plans for the house that the developer is thinking about for the future. For now, he is content to sip his morning coffee in the library, watching for signs of wildlife in the woods outside the window.
“Most of my development projects take five to 10 years to complete,” Greenberg says. “Renovating this house was fun because the results were so immediate.”